Filipino hoops coaches bare opportunities, challenges abroad

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jun 29 2020 09:06 PM

MANILA -- It isn’t only basketball players who have been finding jobs and opportunities in Southeast Asia, but also coaches.

In the Filoil Flying V Sports webcast Usapang Coach: Spotlight on the Filipino as Coach in Southeast Asia, several coaches not only shared their opportunities playing their trade abroad, but also how Filipino basketball players and coaches are respected as well.

And there have been a multitude of them. Among those coaches who have sought opportunities or even “greener pastures” include former PBA coach Nat Canson who opened the doors for Filipinos teaching the game abroad. Bong Ramos, another coach with significant pedigree, also has made a name for himself in Southeast Asia. There is Tino Pinat, Jing Ruiz, Raha Mortel, Paul Advincula, Jojo Castillo, Tyrone Bautista, Britt Reroma, Lito Vergara, and Derrick Pumaren who was a team consultant for the Hong Kong side that participated in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships in Manila.

Perhaps, among them, it is Ramos and Ariel Vanguardia who have made huge strides. Ramos has steered three Indonesian teams to titles. He was also head coach of Indonesia’s national team to the 2003 Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam.

Following his success in Indonesia, Ramos was made head coach of Fedex Express in the PBA in 2005 after which he was an assistant with Talk ‘N Text Phonepals. After returning to Indonesia from 2008-09, Ramos joined the Brunei Barracudas in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL). He then found himself back in the PBA as head coach of Air21.

Vanguardia, on the other hand, started out as an international scout then assistant to the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the ABL until he was promoted to the head coach position during the 2015-16 ABL season.

He was also feted the ABL Coach of the Year in 2014 while also with Malaysia. This triumph and accolade helped secure a job coaching for the Phoenix Fuelmasters in the PBA in May 2016. Vanguardia is now with BlackWater as head of their sports academy.

Like Vanguardia, Ramos parlayed his success abroad into multiple coaching stints in the PBA.

Some like Ramos and Pinat began their Southeast Asian coaching journey as a player. Pinat played first as an import then graduated into coaching in Malaysia and Vietnam. “Dala rin ng better salary abroad,” underscored the former Letran Knight.

Ramos was spotted in the 1986 Asian Inter-City competition playing for the Pasig Giants under Canson and team manager Buddy Encarnado of whom both eventually went up to Sta. Lucia in the PBA. Ramos coached his alma mater Mapua University and the Batangas Blades in the MBA before suiting up for Pelita Jaya in Indonesia as player and then coach.

“It was a big opportunity,” remarked Ramos who also pointed out that his success abroad landed him a job in Manila.

Vergara decided to take the Southeast Asian plunge after Vanguardia invited him to do some academy coaching in Kuala Lumpur. “I started in 2012 after sinabihan ako ni Coach Ariel na magkakaroon ng basketball academy. I thought ‘abroad?’ But kinausap ako barkada ko they said it was a good experience,” he said.

Eight years later, Vergara is still working in Malaysia.

The coaches all bared the challenges of coaching basketball in a football-mad region.

First and foremost, it is being away from family and familiar surroundings. “Kaya kung may chance ka to include in your contract that you bring your family over, do it,” said Vanguardia.

Ramos shared that he had to deal with the language barrier until he learned conversational Bahasa. So even as a player, he had to learn to teach his teammates being the point guard as an extension of the head coach. That paved the way for his becoming a coach.

“Matututo ka magturo,” agreed Vergara.

“Ang isa ko na concern ay 'yung interest ng mga bata,” admitted Pinat. “It is seen as a hobby more than a profession. Tapos lahat ng players may ibang trabaho. Kaya 'yung skill level nung mag-start ako ng coaching ay mababa.”

However, the global success of the NBA has appealed to a new generation of youth.

“If the NBA is seen as a detriment to the Filipino game (because the youth try to emulate the more athletic American players), here it is a good thing,” interjected Pinat. “You have to gain their interest.”

The NBA, coupled with the surge of popularity of the ABL, as well as the proliferation of basketball-related videos on the internet, sparked interest in these traditionally difficult areas where football is king. “Kung sa Philippines, problema 'yung ginagaya 'yung NBA, dito it is good kasi nakuha mo 'yung interest ng mga bata.”

In his return to Indonesia in 2015, Ramos admitted that he was surprised that the skill level of players has gone up.

However, all four coaches agreed that they have the advantage of being a Filipino in the game. “Advantage ang pagiging Pilipino sa basketball,” noted Pinat. "Tatanungin ka, ‘Are you from the Philippines?’ May respeto agad. At lalo ka gaganahan.”

They all likewise agreed that coaching abroad has made them better as coaches. “Natuto ako mag-adjust sa kultura ng iba,” said Ramos.

More than the different cultures, there are the different ethnic groups. In countries like Singapore and Malaysia, many of the athletes are of Malay, Chinese, and Indian stock, each one with its own peculiarities.

“I also see to it that I have a budget to invite my players to eat out. You learn about them and it makes them feel special that you get to know them as persons. And it isn’t just eating. We sometimes do paintball or watch a movie. And it helps.”

“Ako naman, natuto ako maging mas mapasenisya,” chimed in Pinat. “Iba rin kasi 'yung skill level. Mas tutok ka at adaptive sa situation. You coach a tournament for one week but the players arrive only a week before. Sometimes you coach all year for a tournament na one or two months lang.”

“Wala rin mga ballboy so ikaw rin mag-aabot,” offered Vanguardia.     

“Dito matututo ka mag-share ng basketball knowledge mo,” threw in Vergara. “'Yung na-allot mo na one hour will turn into two, three hours. Pero okay lang 'yan. Part ng job 'yan and opportunity pa rin.”